Little Darlings & Why They Must Die..for Real

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.” Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian filing cabinet where they would come back as really bad novels. …oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot.

Today we will address two especially nefarious writing hazards that like to lurk below the wittiest dialogue and most breathtaking description:

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

These two related booby-traps are often hidden beneath our little darlings (clever dialogue, beautiful description, etc).

That is probably why Stephen King recommended we kill them. Yes, kill them dead. No burying them in the Pet Semetary, also known as “revision.” Killing means killing….as in delete forever. Or at least cut them cleanly from the story and hide in a Word folder to give yourself time to grieve and move on with the real novel. Yet too many times we hang on to those favorite characters or bits of dialogue, reworking them and hoping we can make them fit…at the expense of the rest of the story.

Th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go.

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. Good characterization is what breathes life into black letters on a white page, creating “people” who are sometimes more real to us than their flesh and blood counterparts. The problem is that characterization is a skill that has to be learned, usually from a lot of mistakes. Yet, time and time again, I see writers—as NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer would say—moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.

In a last ditch attempt to spare a darling, a writer describes the character more, or gives more info dump or more internal thought, or more back story, yet never manages to accomplish true characterization. So, when something really bad happens, we the reader just don’t care. Les Edgerton, in his book Hooked explores this problem in detail if you would like to read more, but to keep it short and sweet I’m going to explain it this way.

Most of us have driven down a highway at around rush hour, so picture this scenario.

We notice emergency lights ahead. The oncoming traffic lane is shut down and looks like a debris field. Four mangled cars lay in ruins, surrounded by somber EMTs. Do you feel badly? Unless you’re a sociopath, of course you do.

Now… You look into that same oncoming lane and two of the cars you recognize. They belong to friends you were supposed to meet for dinner.

Before you cared…now you are connected.

That is how good characterization makes the difference. If we open our story with this gut-wrenching scene in a hospital where someone is dying, we are taking a risk. Readers will certainly care on a human level, but not on the visceral level that makes them have to close the book and get tissue.

I have had to pry many, many darlings like these away from desperate writers “parents” unwilling to take the scenes off of life support. They wrote opening scenes of car accidents and hospitals and death and child abduction so vivid they couldn’t read their own work without tearing up. I did the same thing early in my writing journey. The problem, however, was this…no one but us cared.

We hadn’t done enough development of the story to make the readers just as vested as we were. And, because we were so determined to keep these gut-wrenching scenes, we never dug in and did the real work that would have made the audience cry too.

Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. In fact, back in February at the DFW Writer’s Workshop Conference, I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of new and hopeful writers in between classes I was teaching. I would ask them what their book was about and the conversation would sound a bit like this:

What’s your book about?

Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

*blank stare*

What is her goal?

Um. To find out who she is?

These conversations actually made me chuckle because now I know what Bob Mayer felt like the day he met me :D. My first novel was so complex, I don’t even think I fully understood it. But back to the conference. Most writers wanted to land an agent, yet, out of everyone I talked to, only two could state what their novel was about in three sentences or less.

The tragic part is that most of the novels did not have a genuine conflict lock. Protagonist wants this. Antagonist wants that. What they each want is destined to lock in conflict. Great tactic taught by Bob Mayer in his Novel Writer’s Toolkit. It is my opinion that all these writers, deep down, knew they were missing the backbone to their story—CONFLICT. I think they sensed it on a sub-conscious level and that is why their plots grew more and more and more complicated.

They were trying to fix a structural issue with Bondo putty and duct tape and then hoping no one would notice. How do I know this? I used to own stock in Plot Bondo.

The problem is, complexity is not conflict. We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.

And, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way.

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complex. We frequently get too complex when we are trying to b.s. our way through something we don’t understand and hope works itself out. Um, it won’t. Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we get complex to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

I sincerely believe these little darlings are like fluffy beds of leaves covering pungee pits of writing death.

Be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. And then kill them dead and bury your pets for real.

You have rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

This week’s winner of 5-page edit is Marilag Lubag. Please send your doc (1250 words) to kristen @ kristen lamb dot org.

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

My book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media hit THREE best-seller lists on Kindle yesterday. #2 in Computers & Technology, #13 in Authorship and #17 in Advertising. THANK YOU!!!!! This book is recommended by some of the biggest authors AND agents in New York, so make sure you pick up a copy if you don’t have one already.

Also, if you want to learn how to blog or even how to take your blogging to a level you never dreamed possible…get your copy of Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer  today. This book hit #1 on the best-selling list in less than 48 hours thanks to all of YOU!!!!! Not only will this book help you learn to blog, but you will be having so much fun, you will forget you were supposed to be learning.

Happy writing!

Until next time….


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  1. When I have trouble pulling the plug on a particular character or plot digression, I open a new file in a separate folder (usually called ‘bits’ or ‘other ideas’) and stick it there. This way I can pretend that they’re not really gone – but they’re FAR AWAY from my story.

    As for conflict vs complexity – man, did you hit my WIP right on the head! (Um, I think it may be dead…no, it’s till breathing. Barely). I had the “she wants to find out who she is” plot (if I can even call it that) with side of “bad guys want to KILL them.” I’m currently reworking it so the good vs bad guys plot is dead center, and what do you know – it looks like a story!

    • Linda Burke on May 13, 2011 at 1:48 pm
    • Reply

    I’m a new writer, learning how to write fiction. My sister is taking your workshop and told me about your book so I bought both of them (We Are Not Alone and Are You There, Blog) yesterday and am following you. I don’t have a blog or website. Thanks for all the very practical information. I see author blogs all the time doing exactly what you say not to do. Love it.

    Linda Burke

    1. Linda – you made a wise choice to purchase Kristen’s books. Here WANA book set me on my path to building an online presence.

  2. Kirsten, first I want to say thanks for your eye-opening branding workshop this week. You gave lots of great food for thought, and I’m still chewing furiously. 🙂

    Have I killed my darlings? Oh, yeah, and it was a painful death. Reader’s Digest version: I entered a twice-revised manuscript in several RWA® contests; won several times; got multiple requests for fulls, including one from my Dream Agent, Rachelle Gardner; and ended up with with an offer of representation from her the day after I hit “send.” Cool, huh?

    Well, six weeks later I got my first-ever set of Revision Notes. I’d let out the tension 1/4th of the way into my story and had to ditch 75,000+ words and start over. I had complexity but NO CONFLICT. I wept a while, winced as I realized Rachelle was right, and went to work. Nine months later I sent her a new version of the story, one that includes CONFLICT, which she sold this past December.

    Conflict is ESSENTIAL. Lesson learned–the hard way. 🙂

  3. Great post, Kristen! I’m not just editing, but rewriting! What looked good the last round, derailed somehwere along the way. I didn’t see it, but my agent did. So I soaked on it and then after reviewing again, I saw the light. Hopefully I’m back on track. But it took hearing the questions/having them pointed out, and then reading with fresh eyes again. I also do the trick of starting another file–knowing the original is there if I need to pluck from it. And a delete-file. So it doesn’t freak me out so much.

    I love your tips and try to follow you often! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’ve heard “kill your darlings” many times, but I very much like the way you’ve described I here.
    And, uh-oh, my protag is burying her mother(literally-with a shovel) in the opening scene*bites fingernails* Melodrama? I’ll have to take another look…

  5. Very interesting post. I too, fell into the melodrama category with my current novel, and had to go back and show more of my main character before the conflict kicked in. I have definitely had to cut some of the “darlings,” and I’m sure I’ll do more. I try to stick by the 50 page edit rule, meaning I print out every 50 pages and read for plot, content, etc. Has definitely helped me catch some issues!

  6. Another great blog. You didn’t hit on anything I’m personally doing in my writing, but as before it’s still great to see reminders so that one knows how to navigate the rocky shoals of bad writing.

    Certainly glad I subscribed to your blog, Kristen.

  7. Fascinating post. Will keep this advice in mind as I head into my next project. 🙂

    • Terrell Mims on May 13, 2011 at 3:22 pm
    • Reply

    Four words. Purple Tornado and Fetal position. Well, that’s five…oh well. Great blog, but the academic in me would always love more info. I learn so much from you even after hearing it a second time.

    The way I cut little darlings is by reading a scene out loud and imagining would this make me laugh or do I hear music that tries to make me care. (I laughed a lot while reading the Twilight series.)

    “Johnny, please don’t leave me! I love you! I gave up all that I am. You are my heart and soul. You define me like a dictionary!” LOL!!! That’s a little darling that needs to be brutally murdered.

    Great job, Kristen.

    1. “You define me like a dictionary.” That belongs in a Sunday afternoon made for TV movie, starring Brian Austin Green’s second cousin.

  8. We hear so often that we must “grab” the reader in the opening line/paragraph/page that the instinct is to go for melodrama (pronounced “meller-drama” here in Texas!). While I “get it” that readers must care about the protag, just how much is needed before the baseball bat gets swung at his/her head? A paragraph? Page? Three pages? Yep, I know there’s no formula, and the answer is “just enough and no more…” but this has been my biggest hurdle to date. So I write the “meller-drama” and then go back and start the page just a bit before, while Mom’s pouring milk on the Cheerios and juggling the dog/kid responsibility. So when the knock at the door comes and a gun is aimed at her kid’s head, we’re ready…(so to speak). Am I on the write…er, right track?

  9. Sometimes the little darlings are just misfits: they’re getting in the way of THIS story, but might be useful in the future. I put them in cryogenic stasis (for you SciFi fans out there); later, I’ll see if they are a good fit for something else. Right now, I’ve got a Civil War spy/prostitute and a Egyptian desert death match scene cooling their heels (in separate containers – can’t put them together or my head will explode, LOL).

    Thanks for this post, Kristen! As always, you put things in wonderfully straightforward terms that us troglodyte writers can understand.

    • Jessica Harwood on May 13, 2011 at 4:36 pm
    • Reply

    I’m not sure I’ve ever suffered from this myself, I’ve simply tried to write novels with just one conflict and zero subplots. Now that I’ve realized this, I’m attempting to fix the problem in my new WIP, but I’m sure the tips you’re posting here will help too.

  10. Hey! Having a main conflict on the first pages is bad advice, nobody cares, true. However, writing something edgy on the beginning can be a good idea; it is NOT conflict, but it is engaging.

    Example: Amanda Hocking -> Switched. The story starts with the main character telling that she was almost murdered by her own mother when she was a kid. I don’t know the character, but now I’m interested.

    I want to ask you something. What about stories that don’t have a obvious goal since the beginning? I don’t think that is a bad thing.

    Example: Water for Elefants. The guy loses everything and start working on a circus. I’m in 35% of the book and there is still no defined goal. He is not even properly in love with the girl yet.

  11. I’m going to have to do some much “cutting” that you’d think I was committing genocide! Do what it takes to tell a great story. I’d rather have a book that people will read again and again then one that they pull off the shelf, read once, and then forget about it. I want to create a ‘comfort book’ and no once can be comfortable unless there’s resolution. No conflict, no resolution! Thanks for the tips.

  12. I need to read King’s book – thanks for the top!

    1. Stephen King’s book ROCKS, as does “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (may he RIP).

      Great post, Kristen!! I enjoyed it and will be RTing it.

      K.B – I have a misfits file too. 🙂

  13. Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

    Ah, Kristen love, do you know what you’ve just described?

    It’s called FanFic. I’ve seen so much bad Fan Fiction over the last forty years. Some of it is just incredible. Incredibly bad. Shudderingly bad. Of course that’s why it’s FanFic.

    Still you have to look at the bright side – they could just be watching TV. Writing, even bad writing, is better than doing nothing. And some of them will learn what they need to know, and become pros.


    1. Oh, you wound me! *clutches as chest* 😉 I know what you mean though – I’m a Fanfic writer/reader myself, and gosh! You think I would get used to seeing the bad stuff… but it still makes me wince, every time… however, I do like to think that we’re not all horrible cliched writers, and finding that piece of brilliant Fanfic makes all the bad stuff worth it (well, pretty much worth it ;D)

      But the important thing is, Fanfic helped me to actually write regularly, and I can definitely see a development in my skills as I look back over my years of writing. That’s what really matters! 🙂

        • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter on May 17, 2011 at 1:32 am
        • Reply


        While I’ve criticized Fanfic here, I’ve criticzed it because some people never move beyond it. Using Fanfic to learn writing is a great way to get started. A great way to learn the basics.

        Locking yourself into writing Fanfic, and nothing but Fanfic, is a waste of your talent. I know people who’ve spent half a century writing Fanfic. These people are good writers. Practiced writers. People who have developed skills that should allow them to go professional.

        On the other hand it’s better than watching the Boob Tube 24/7.


  14. Ironic that this shows up today, because I just finished stabbing my darling in the heart, cutting up the unnecessary pieces and burning them to ash – yeah, those first five pages that worked *okay* but are now four that pop.

    For me, the process of killing darlings is slow – more like long-term poisoning with a slow-acting agent that needs to build up in the system over time. To build immunity, a passage must survive on strength alone. Those without the strength to withstand harsh editing (at my own hands and those of some incredible but brutally honest beta readers)…well, they have to go.

    For me, a scene is strong enough to live if every sentence belongs. A sentence is strong enough to live if every clause belongs. A clause lives if every word belongs. At the end of the day, if the word doesn’t work for a living it has to go.

    I think a coral reef is a good example: when the reef begins, the corals are far apart and there’s room for everyone. As they grow together, however, only the strong survive. Sometimes that means the “pretty” corals die, but in the end the reef is stronger for it.

    My obsession with my aquarium is showing again. I think that means it’s time to shut up.

    • Carol R. Wood on May 14, 2011 at 2:49 am
    • Reply

    Kristen, great topic. Sometimes what a writer reads early in their career doesn’t become evident until a few years later. Then she says, “I did that? I did that.” And cuts.

    Carol R. Wood
    Brave Blue Worlds – Come Fly with Me

  15. A hard lesson to learn. Cutting characters you think are so wonderful, and they really have no purpose. I’m going to kill them now. Shh, don’t tell em I’m coming.

  16. If I get really, really attached to a sentence, idea, or character that just doesn’t fit the story I’m writing, so attached that I can’t just toss it and keep going, I indulge myself. I will open a whole new doc. I’ll turn that character into a sketch to be used later. I’ll make that amazing sentence the first line of a poem or the hook in a whole new short story. I’ll flesh out that idea in a brainstorming session. It takes a little time from what I ‘should’ be writing, but it keeps those hateful little darlings from popping back up in the same story later.

  17. Oh gosh! I won! Doing a happy dance at the moment.

    The complexity part reminds me of how I was when I first started writing. Somehow, it’s gotten better but it’s still complex. Need to learn how to do #1 as well. My writing definitely needs improvement.

  18. At my last play read-through, the cast were falling about laughing at the dialogue because (they said) it sounded like it came straight out of a Harlequin romance novel. Luckily for me, this dialogue was all in the “Play within a play” section that was SUPPOSED to be a melodrama. At least, I HOPE that’s why it was melodramatic.
    I’m currently reading a ‘proper’ novel that’s all, y’know, literary and stuff. Although the writer clearly has a cranio-rectal inversion* in many ways, he has hooked me by mentioning in the opening pages that one of the characters is going to murder another, and that the ‘murderee’ (his word) knows it’s going to happen, but the murderer doesn’t. I don’t *like* any of the characters, but the car-crash nature of the plot has me hanging around to see what happens next. So far, anyway.

    *his head is stuck up his bottom

  19. More great tips for writers. I always find your posts so helpful, and in this one I really like your explanation of drama vs melodrama.

  20. Had to go through this with my current WIP, designed a complex world setting, interconnected character relationships to the point where the mind map looked like a deranged loon had obsessed with a spyrograph and then ran into Bob Mayer’s and James Scott Bell’s teachings and realized I had no idea what the story was actually about.

    So back to the core seed idea. Kill of the “darlings”, the clever distractions and read Larry Brooks and low-n-behold, found the story.

    Great post Kristen!

  21. The way I avoid these problems is through planning. Figure out what your characters are going to do and how they’re going to do it before you start writing. You’ll be less likely to take wrong turns and insert unnecessary complexities. Essential: after you’re done writing a scene or chapter, re-read your plan. How close are you?

    That said, I still end up at the end of the process with stuff that demands change. When that happens to me, they’re not darlings, they’re roaches. And they make a very satisfying crunch when you stomp them.

  22. Let’s face it, editing, cutting, deleting–sucks! It hurts, it’s painful, it is needed. It is NEVER easy. But once it is done, it does get easier. I save all cut scenes into a folder for reference. Helps me to be a murder of my own prose, because I haven’t actually completely omitted all that hard work. It just has been moved to wait until if or when it may be reworked into a different novel…

    See? Now that doesn’t sound to hard, right?

  23. This post made me look at my work — the work that has been languishing — and I realized I had no conflict. I had conflicted protagonists, but no CONFLICT! So I started asking what if questions, and now I am so excited! I even could write a blurb for it. And I’m finally writing again.

    I got so excited I wrote a blog about it and linked to this blog. Thank you!

  24. My “book bits.doc” is the gravesite for darlings. I write them, love them, then excise them and dump them into “book bits”. And the story goes on without them. Just fine. Sigh.

    On the upside, sometimes a bit of rewriting turns a darling from one book into a workhorse for another book. That happened once…

  25. Okay KristenLambTX, it’s time for the stalking and the following and the reading to stop. It’s time to comment. I’ve been teaching writing for years. I consider myself a pretty good writer, and I have helped a lot of people to become better writers.

    That said, I have a manuscript that has lived in three different computers over the last eight years. I’m a huge perfectionist, and while I know it likely needs revisions, I feel I have hacked at it as much as I can.

    There are no “little darlins.” I’m not sentimental like that, and that’;s what my “pieces_parts.doc” is for. So how does a person move forward after it has been pared down? Do I start looking for readers? Do I start querying editors? Or do I keep tweaking and “moving around the deck chairs”? (Although, let’s be clear: we ain’t on the Titanic.)

    All these years later, the story is just so incredibly personal. Even though I am calling it fiction – and it is because I have added jazz hands and pixie dust and my character is not me. (She is much more interesting than I am and has does things I have had to create from 100% imagination) – I just wonder what I need to do to open the dovecote doors to set this baby free?

    I plan (sometime soon) to write about how certain people are connectors and they are just crazy magnanimous about putting people together. I am one of those people. So when I met Clay, it was like meeting myself… (except it is my understanding that he has the boy parts), I knew that our worlds would become intertwined. I’m glad he has led me to you. I may not play the linky-linky love game, but I sure would love any guidance you might be able to provide.

      • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter on May 15, 2011 at 11:47 am
      • Reply

      So how does a person move forward after it has been pared down? Do I start looking for readers? Do I start querying editors? Or do I keep tweaking and “moving around the deck chairs”?


      In addition to being a novelist, I write about computers, technology, and I’m a futurist. Yep, I read chicken entrails, and come up with weird answers. Among other things I’ve foreseen the bankruptcy of Microsoft in the fall of 2014 (writers start looking for non-Microsoft tools i.e. what can you replace Windows with), electric cars taking 50% of the new car market by 2015, and most book stores dying off by 2013.

      Seriously. I think that most book stores will be dead in two years. And with them most publishers will be gone too, with self publishing on ebooks being the wave of the future. Go to Google and do a search for the words ‘Jon Konrath self publishing’ and ‘Bob Mayer self publishing’ and you should get some decent stuff. If you don’t already own a Kindle, Nook, Sony EReader, or an IPad, I’d strongly suggest that you get one.

      I have an IPad. Bought my first ebook this year, and I’ll never buy another ‘real book’ ever again, unless that’s the only way I can get something that I absolutely must have (i.e. for research). I tend to ignore stuff that isn’t available as an ebook. If they aren’t willing to solicit my business by providing the format I want, well then they won’t get it.

      The thing with ebooks is that you can self publish, and make better money by doing so than you can through a ‘traditional publisher’. Sure, there’s work involved. There’s work involved going through a traditional publisher too. Check out my article Copyright Wars – Starving The Enemy (note that the title was chosen to annoy Steve Kane, the President of Warner Music Canada – Steve and I hate each others guts) about the economics of self publishing, and then take a look at Web Lit Canada, a site that I put together to help Canadian writers work their way through the minefield of self publishing. While Web Lit Canada is aimed at the Canadian experience, all writers are welcome to sign up for an account, and to take part in the forums.

      I will be going the self publishing route myself. I just don’t see how the traditional publishers can match the 70% returns I’ll get by publishing through Amazon at a $2.99 price. If I sell 10,000 copies at that price, my return is $20930.00, which is pretty good. And selling 10,000 copies at $2.99 really isn’t that hard.

      Or maybe since this is the first book of a trilogy, I’ll do an Amanda Hocking, sell it for $0.99, and sell books 2 & 3 for $2.99. Hopefully if 100,000 people will read the first one, 25,000 people will like it well enough to buy books two and three.

      There’s all sorts of options and implications. Your sales will be drive by you – and this is where you need to read Kristen’s blog posts about social networking (and probably her books too, bought them last night, they are next on my list). I know a couple of writers who do the social networking thing a lot, but who say that self publishing would be too much work. Um, pardon me, but look at how much work you are already putting into this…

      Good luck going forward. Please let us know how it works out.

      Oh, and this is an open invitation to everyone to sign onto Web Lit Canada if you want – yes, I’m free to off that. I do after all own the site 🙂


    1. You need to start working on the second book. The career writer needs more than one book. A critique group is a good idea as well. Just because we have a natural talent to write does not mean we are ready for New York. I know many writers are embracing self-publishing. That is an option, but it all depends on what YOUR career goals are. Wayne makes it seem like selling 10,000 books is easy. Maybe for some, but for most people that is a TON of work. That is one of the reasons people like Amanda Hocking are picking up traditional contracts. Self-pub is a TON of work. My methods can make it easier, but not easy.

      So my advice is buy Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Easy fast fun read. Then take a good honest look at your first novel. My first novel had beautiful prose, but because I didn’t understand narrative structure, the book was a disaster. If your book is good, then you query while you work on book number two. You have to get good at turning out product. If you land a three-book deal the publisher isn’t going to give you 24 years to get them turned in. Also work on building your social platform. The life of the professional author is very different and includes A LOT of work. It is rewarding, but it’s a lot of sacrifice and many people can’t endure. I recommend taking one of Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer Workshops. Learn your craft and learn your business. Also go to conferences. You will learn a TON about the craft and how our industry works.

      I think that the industry is changing, but I don’t think traditional publishing will go away nor do I think bookstores will all close. BArnes and Noble can’t afford to have a two-story fancy bookstore on every major intersection, Like everyone else, they will have to lean down and get more efficient.

      I’m really happy you found the blog. I dedicate a lot of time to educating you guys about the craft and the industry.

        • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter on May 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm
        • Reply

        Um, sorry, I didn’t meant to give the impression that it was easy. I meant to give the impression that if you didn’t get moving, you’d never do anything.

        I know several people who have worked on the same manuscript, polishing and polishing for years, never satisfied. In my opinion it gets to a point where you have to say, “Enough!” and get the manuscript out into the world. If you don’t publish, you aren’t finalizing the writing experience.

        Sure, the first book may not work out. But believe it or not, we learn more by falling down and getting a bloody knee, then we learn by executing a perfect back flip. Yeah, it’s more fun executing the perfect back flip, but you’ll remember the bloody knee longer, and aren’t likely to make the same mistake again, are you?

        My advice is to do the Bull in the China Shop routine. Charge forward at full speed, and see what happens. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, you’ll learn something.

        This is being spoken by the worst Bull In The China Ship you are ever likely to meet. Kristen talks about how she’s the Twitterovert who drags the rest of us kicking and screaming into Social Media. I’m the Juggernaut who plows forward through brick walls, and over people who are in the way to get things done, and tries to encourage everyone else to do the same 🙂


  26. THIS.. is a really good blog. I saw you referenced in a blog that was trying to sell a “Write a novel in 24 hours” type thing and looked you up.

    That being said… I would love for someone who actually knew what they were doing to criticize my writing. If my name can still go in that hat.. consider this my submission.

  27. Kristen, This is often given advice but no less useful for being oft repeated.
    I had great trouble learning to slaughter the babies.
    Once I acquired the ruthlessness it was gratifying to see how the work improved.
    Self-indulgence is so tempting.
    My first novel: Daniel’s Conflict was sent mewling into the world scarce half made up. I withdrew it and took a knife, nay an axe to it. Now six drafts later I can look at the first born with pride. Ten novels later I’m still learning.
    David Rory O’Neill.

  28. Conflict…huh….maybe that’s why I’m stuck at chapter six…When I’m writing I constantly ask myself: “does this move the story forward?” Something that doesn’t somehow move the story forward has no business being there. I find that I ax a lot of stuff that way, but it also makes the work go much, much faster at the same time. I’ll be taking a look at the novel and figuring out the central conflict, although I’m already getting a clearer idea as to what it is.

  29. If only I’d seen this before I started querying! I think it would have saved a ton of heartache, especially since I am undeniably guilty of the “finding out who she is” trap. The worst part is that I’ve known the concept of murdering the little darlings for years and years, and until you phrased it the way you did I never even realized I was guilty of it; I thought that as long as I fixed what I saw as padding on the small scale, my story was fine. Thank you so much for making me aware of the large-scale incarnation!

  30. **holds hand out for clone fight**

  31. Why must you allow a picture of Gage to creep up on me! WHY?!?!?! Great post minus the photos. 🙂

    • Elizabethan Queen on September 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm
    • Reply

    Why Fiddle:De:De! I’M PLEASED TO MEETYA! CAN YOU GUESS *MY NAME*? BUT WHAT’S PUZZLING *YOU* IS *THE NATURE OF MY GAME*”…….Yes, So Very True….One *Simply Must* Be Not Only Very Willing to, BUT also Fully Capable Of, and Merciless About *Killing Off One’s Little Darlings*. After all, *Little Darlings* can and usually do spell *Ruin*. One simply cannot allow these insipid little demons to destroy one’s wannabe abfab authorial career, even before said career has begun to spread it’s little fledgling wings to try the air currents to not only fly, but to soar. Non! TSK TSK. And then even so, if and when such an author may one day obtain a degree of success, such as a one that it could only be surmised (by some) to have come about by the selling of said author’s soul at some unholy crossroads someplace…those same killed off formerly *Little Darlings* do indeed have a nasty little habit of not only reincarnating, but breeding like EffiNg bunny rabbits…always waiting, lurking…to take down even *The NYT’s Best Seller’s List Author For Like Eternity Running*. Those insidious creatures. Will *THEY* Never? Learn? Arrogance, Slack, Churning Out Drivel. Perhaps such *Authors* Should Become ReaQuainted With *Their Inner Iagos*? Jest EnUFF, Mind You, to Restore Some Kind of A Balance.

  1. […] And, the always brilliant and hilarious Kristen Lamb explains why we have to kill and bury our “little darlings.” […]

  2. […] we feel the need to defend as “necessary” may not be necessary at all. They could be little darlings, as Stephen King calls them, and need to be eliminated (or at least banished to a folder far far […]

  3. […] Little Darlings and Why They Must Die […]

  4. […] Little Darlings & Why They Must Die..for Real @ Kristen Lamb – some more brilliant writing advice! […]

  5. […] Hm. Demas didn’t change much that scene. Except for the fact he’d sweated through his tunic and his muscles trembled from excursion I’d say he was the exact same. It’s the ole’ style vs. substance battle. I needed some substance behind the action, or else people won’t connect. Kristen Lamb, the writer and social media expert (Wonder Woman called her last week asking for advice on how to be awesome,) wrote about just that thing in Little Darlings & Why They Must Die. […]

  6. […] brainstorming on the dead!  Gene Lempp’s new post Plotting the Iceman.Kristen Lamd speaks on Little Darlings and why they must DIE! (Cue in Funeral […]

  7. […] Little Darlings and Why They Must Die […]

  8. […] of NaNoWriMo, I thought it would be a great reminder to talk about “Little Darlings” as Kristen Lamb calls them. Little Darlings are the detailed pieces of our writing we stop and fuss over when there’s a […]

  9. […] Little Darlings and Why They Must Die […]

  10. […] you need to be frank with yourself and kill that sucker. Kill it before it takes you down. As Kristin Lamb (author, C.E.O. of WANA International, and founder of WANATribe) […]

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